LOS ANGELES. — From the Indiana Jones-esque adventures of Lara Croft to the increasingly Pixar-quality cartoon visuals of Super Mario, video games have long looked to Hollywood for inspiration.
But recent years have showed that the relationship is becoming increasingly transactional.
While you don’t have to look far these days for a film or series based on a popular video game (The Last Of Us and Sonic The Hedgehog are just two, with Mario himself in cinemas soon), it goes much deeper than you might think.
“These worlds have been converging for a decade now,” says Allan Poore, a senior vice president at Unity, a video game development platform increasingly turning its hand to films.
“And for the most part, the core principles are actually the same.”
Indeed, modern video games look so good that the technology behind them is quite literally changing the way blockbusters are made — including the very biggest of them all.
Avata: The Way Of Water was comfortably the highest-grossing film of 2022 — fitting, given it’s the sequel to the highest-grossing film ever made.
James Cameron’s latest blockbuster was up for best picture at last night’s Academy Awards — and success in technical categories like visual effects seems all but assured.
Many of the tools used to bring The Way Of Water to life came from Unity’s Weta Digital division.
Unity bought the tech assets of Weta, the New Zealand-based visual effects firm founded by Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson, for some US$1.6bn in 2021 (he still owns a now separate company called WetaFX, a more traditional visual effects company that — somewhat confusingly — also worked on Avatar).
But what Unity’s deal did was bring a team of talented engineers used to working on films under the umbrella of a company best known for its accessible video game engine.
Think of a gaming engine like a recipe kit — it will contain everything you need to make a game. Some are designed to help build specific types of games — like a shooter or sports title, while others are more broad-brush.
Unity has been used on everything from indie titles to entries in the Call Of Duty and Pokemon franchises.
Jackson said the fusion of expertise, known as Weta Digital, would be “game-changing” for creators.
What makes video games tick is that the rendering of the worlds players explore is done in real time.
That’s because a game can play out differently depending on what the player does — it’s not fixed like a film or TV. Just think of that scene in The Wrong Trousers where Gromit is building the train track as he moves along it and you will get the idea. That’s hugely different to how films have traditionally handled visual effects, where the rendering all happens during post-production — it’s why you’ll see behind-the-scenes footage of actors standing in big green rooms, or talking to tennis balls on the ends of sticks.
All the computer wizardry was done after the fact. — Sky.